The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

McCabe to hold meeting, says driving bill misunderstood


August 9, 2017

Rep. Gina McCabe (R, Goldendale) makes it clear: Washington’s new Driving While Under the Influence of Electronics Acts (Distracted Driving) has people talking—but mostly about what it doesn’t prohibit.

McCabe mentioned the confusion during a sweeping conversation about the Legislature and it has, and has not, done this year. She’ll be covering those issues when she holds a public meeting in Goldendale Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Quality Inn hotel.

Wild rumor began circulating about the new Distracted Driving bill, saying it means you can’t drink a coffee or eat a sandwich while driving. Speculation has included prohibitions on combing your hair or having a pet in the car.

None of those things is true, McCabe points out.

All the new law forbids is holding cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. It bans nothing else. As Shelly Baldwin of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission told KOIN TV, “There is no list.”

What is true is that the bill provides penalties if, once you’re pulled over, it’s discovered that your driving was adversely affected by eating, drinking, touching up your hair or face, attending a pet, or anything else that could pull attention away from the road. Those things would be secondary offenses.

An officer can pull you over for any traffic offense. Under the current law, he or she could now also write you a ticket for $99 if it’s found you committed that offense because of being distracted.

As Baldwin also told KOIN, “When we talk about what distracts a driver, it can be anything that’s not driving. If your dog is jumping up and down on your lap, hitting your arms and making you swerve, they (officers) can pull you over for swerving.” If the dog distracted you, you’ll get the extra ticket. If the officer finds the dog had nothing to do with your swerving, you won’t.

And as with any traffic ticket, you can challenge it in court. And it seems much of the confusion may have arisen from language in an earlier draft of the bill, before it settled on more reasonable terms.

McCabe says a lot of people have been so upset by what they think the new bill states, they’ve launched an online petition to rewrite the bill. They want the bill to remove things it doesn’t even say. It’s a bizarre case of runaway rumor on a mass scale, people incensed over things that don’t even exist. The petitioners, and the people signing it, haven’t taken the extra step of actually verifying what they’re against.

The secondary offense clauses of the bill, addressing “driving dangerously distracted,” is there because law enforcement officials have noticed a huge increase in motorists driving dangerously because of major distractions from electronics and other factors. “We had a huge—more than a 30 percent—increase in distracted driving fatalities in the state just between 2014 and 2015,” Baldwin told KOIN, adding that the rate did not decline in 2016.


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